the toronto zoo

This is how the Toronto Zoo is protecting its animals from COVID-19

News that a tiger tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo earlier this week certainly came as shock to many, and it's inevitably worrisome to anyone concerned about the wellbeing of animals as we navigate this pandemic. 

On top of that, it seems people are more concerned with the big cats of the world than ever now thanks to the extreme popularity of the new Netflix show Tiger King and all of its eccentric characters.

But thankfully, the senior director of wildlife and science at the Toronto Zoo, Dr. Andrew Lentini, says precautions are being taken to ensure the animals remain safe and they are not currently considered to be at high risk of catching the virus.

"There's certainly evidence now and actually documentation that they are susceptible but I don’t think they're at high risk here at all simply because conditions in our zoo, like other accredited zoos, are quite good," he said. 

"We have, especially now that we're in COVID-19 mode... right now we've got precations in place."

Lentini said all staff are screened for symptoms before coming into work each day in order to ensure they're in good health, they have increased levels of sanitation and disinfection of commonly touched surfaces, and staff are also wearing protective gear when engaging with some of the animals. 

While some of these precautions are new, Lentini said they've always had protections in place since many of their animals — such as gorillas and orangutans — are susceptible to the same colds and flus as humans.

Still, he acknowledged that it is quite rare for a virus like this to jump back and forth between humans and animals.

"For the same coronavirus to infect multiple species' like this one appears to do is a bit on the unique side," he said. "Usually you've got a cat coronavirus that doesn't usually affect humans. In this case we still don't know exactly where the virus came from but it did jump that species barrier and made it into humans and is causing all the hardships that we’re seeing now."

Lentini said this is partially the result of people and wildlife mixing in ways that we shouldn't be, citing the wet market in Wuhan where the virus is believed to have originated. 

"It's really a good example of how connected health is on this planet between wildlife and humans and the environment and we've kind of messed it up and I think that's why we're in the position we're in now," he said.

Lentini also said he and the other employees sincerely miss having visitors inside the zoo, and the animals appear to be quite aware of the change too. 

"We miss or guests. We're here to connect people, animals and conservation science to prevent extinction and not having our guests here to share the work we do is really unfortunate and I certainly miss that opportunity to connect folks with our animals," he said. 

"I think our animals certainly noticed it. I think they miss our guests. A lot of them are quite avid people watchers," he continued. 

"I think to one of our orangutans Puppe, I've known her for 30-some odd years now and she's an avid people watcher. She absolutely adores babies and toddlers so whenever staff now are walking by some of our habitats, the animals give you a glance and see what you're up to because I think they do miss having people around."

Lead photo by

Toronto Zoo

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